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Volunteer group cultivates literacy

Christian Myers | Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teamwork for Tomorrow, a student-led volunteer group, hopes to make an impact on South Bend children with its new youth mentorship and reading assistance program.

Club president Emily Schrank said the group offers tutoring to local children struggling with reading comprehension.

“We’re different from other tutoring programs in that we don’t help kids with their homework,” she said. “We’re focused on helping kids improve their reading proficiency and get to where they should be.”

Schrank, a member of the club since her freshman year, said Teamwork for Tomorrow has become an important piece of her time at Notre Dame.

“It’s been a really great way to break out of the Notre Dame bubble and see what is going on in South Bend,” she said. “Getting to know these kids has been a large part of my Notre Dame experience. Obviously I’ve loved it enough to take a leadership role.”

The program is intended for public school students between first and sixth grade, many of whom are recruited from the government housing community, Schrank said. Each student is paired with a tutor, and many returning students stay with the same tutor for several semesters.

The club operates from two locations on alternating days: St. Casimir Parish on Mondays and Wednesdays and St. Patrick Parish on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each session lasts two hours, with one devoted to reading, writing and other skill development and the other comprised of a snack break and physical activity period.

“During the gym hour they play games that are centered on teamwork and team building,” Schrank said.

Groups from the two sites collaborate but operate independently on a daily basis, she said.

“It’s one club, but over time site coordinators have developed different systems,” Schrank said.

The St. Patrick group works with students divided into two age groups, whereas the St. Casimir group keeps the entire group together throughout, she said.

In order to recognize the students’ efforts, the group selects a “Kid of the Week” and an “Athlete of the Week” at each site, Schrank said.

“We believe in positive reinforcement and building self-esteem,” she said. “The kids really love [the awards] and it becomes a big thing for them.”

Schrank said the club has special events that depart from the weekly routine. The most popular of these events is the talent show at the end of each school year, she said.

“We bring the kids to campus, usually in the library auditorium. The kids all show off their talents, we provide pizza and parents often come to watch,” she said. “It’s a fun end of the year wrap-up. The kids are always really, really excited about it.”

The club also hosts an “Athlete Day” each spring, when Notre Dame varsity athletes join the on-site activities, Schrank said.
“They choose a book to read to the kids and they run the gym hour,” Schrank said.

Many of the club’s books are sourced from its Thanksgiving break book drive, she said.

“We get books from alumni of the club, parents of current tutors and community organizations, but we can always use more,” Schrank said.

Schrank said 35 students signed up for the club during activities night last week. While the quantity is lower than in the past, she said the new students’ enthusiasm was encouraging.

“It’s not as many as we’ve had in the past, but when we reached out to them to gauge interest everyone who signed up seemed to actually be interested,” she said. “Hopefully, we can get most of them to commit.”